My favorite shortwave radio

My very first website had this heading:

Find out who I am by reading my web site
and I will find out who I am by writing it.

I’m writing this article to help myself answer the question of which is my favorite radio.

I have 37 radios right now. Some are super cheap (under $10), some I couldn’t give away on eBay, some are novelties, and a few are serious radios. The candidates for favorite shortwave radio come from the last category, and they are:

  • Eton Elite Executive
  • Sangean ATS-405
  • Tecsun PL-330
  • Tecsun PL-660
  • XHDATA D-109
  • XHDATA D-808

Eton Elite Executive

The Eton Elite Executive is the most expensive of these radios to buy (except I got it on a blowout sale under $80). It not only performs well, but it is also feature rich, including MW/FM/SW/LW/AIR, plus SSB and FM RDS. It has a convenient “scan for next station” function.

What I don’t like about this radio is that it falls over easily, and that the case is awkward to remove because of the antenna placement. I also don’t like its station memory system. Its automatic key lockout is also extra trouble. Auto tune storage (ATS) only works on FM. The F1-F7 keys do many things, and you need the manual to know what’s what. Other radios use the number keys for settings and include descriptive labels.

Eton Elite Executive radio (Amazon product photo).

Sangean ATS-405

The Sangean ATS-405 is a radio that I keep coming back to. It has a wonderfully clear display. The carrying case is efficient. It has excellent performance on MW. It has a convenient “scan for next station” function. It has controls for soft mute, tuning mute, AGC and squelch, but it lacks some things, like LW, Air band, SSB support, FM RDS and an external antenna jack. Also ATS is limited to MW and FM (and the number of memories per band is only 36). Shortwave sensitivity is the lowest among the contenders. A manual is required for some features.

Sangean ATS-405 (Amazon product photo)

Tecsun PL-330

The Tecsun PL-330 is my go-to travel radio because its very compact and lightweight. It performs well. It has the best memory system of any radio I know of. It’s enhanced tuning mode (ETM+) scans the shortwave bands by time of day (1-hour groups). I easily remember how it works. It also has an ATS memory scan (that I don’t remember). The total number of memories is not documented. The manual says there are 850 ATS memories, and with ETM+ I think the total is 9,650.

What I don’t like is that it’s hard to keep track of whether you’re viewing by frequency or viewing by memory location. Also the direct entry of frequencies doesn’t always work for me (small buttons) and I have to repeat it. It also lacks a kickstand. MW performance is the poorest in the group (probably because the radio is small with the internal loopstick antenna); however, it’s fantastic with a long wire antenna (connecting an external MW antenna to the antenna jack is a “hidden feature”). I reviewed it, alongside the PL-660, and more recently compared it to the XHDATA D-808.

Tecsun PL-330 (Amazon product photo)

Tecsun PL-660

The Tecsun PL-660 is my oldest serious radio. It’s also my most expensive radio, $109 when I bought it back in 2011. It’s feature rich, lacking only FM RDS. It has good performance as a receiver. Its ATS works on all the bands. It is second from the top in the number of station memories, and has a good memory management system. It’s a dual-conversion superheterodyne receiver. It receives SSB with a beat frequency oscillator (BF0). It’s synchronous detection is outstanding.

There isn’t much in the way of negatives, except that the radio is heavy and bulky (like the Eton). I don’t think this radio is readily available new, replaced by the PL-680, and replaced again by by the PL-880, and now the PL-990X at more than double the price.

Tecsun PL-660 (Amazon product photo)

XHDATA D-109

The XHDATA D-109 is the newest radio in the group, introduced only last month (February, 2023). It is also the the least expensive, only $38.13 on sale including shipping. I ordered mine just 2 days after release and it was recalled due to defective direct frequency entry. They say they will send me a new one (now received). This radio is generating a lot of buzz in the shortwave community because it works well and has a low price.

I like the radio. I think its controls are logical. The memory system works OK, and I like the ability to scan for the next available station.

The biggest negative is that even though it has an external antenna jack, it overloads easily if you use it and there is no Local/DX switch. It doesn’t have SSB, air band, or FM RDS. I also don’t like the automatic shift in tuning rate depending on how fast you turn the knob (the PL-660 is this way too but seems to work more intuitively). I have a separate review of this radio.

XHDATA D-109 (XHDATA product photo)

XHDATA D-808

And finally, there is the XHDATA D-808, my most recent acquisition. It is well regarded in the shortwave listening community. It performs well and is feature rich, with LW / MW / FM / SW / AIR, FM RDS, and SSB.

It performs well, especially on MW.

What I don’t like is its abysmally bad memory system, and pathetic manual (both incomplete and inaccurate). I don’t like the feel of the buttons. I detail all of the negatives in a separate review.

XHDATA D-808

Conclusion?

So which is my favorite? I’m going to rule out the XHDATA D-808. Despite good performance, I just don’t like it. Likewise, I’m ruling out the Sangean ATS-405 because it’s not as sensitive as the others, doesn’t sound as good, and is the only one in the group that doesn’t have an antenna jack. The Tecsun PL-660 is a great radio, but it’s bulky and I really don’t use it that much; the sound is robust, but a little muddy. The Eton Elite Executive is a stellar performer, but it falls over and is clumsy to use with the snap-on case. It’s not my go-to radio. That leaves the Tecsun PL-330 that I like a lot, but I don’t tend to gravitate especially towards, and it’s the only one in the group without a kickstand. Also its speaker isn’t the most powerful. The XHDATA D-109 can’t be used with an external antenna well, ruling it out in many circumstances, plus it lacks SSB.

After having written all of this, I’ve discovered that my favorite radio must be one that I don’t have yet. 😕

Update

Since the original publication of this article, I purchased a Tecsun PL-880, prompting some serious reconsideration of the radios I have listed here compared to it. The result is that my regard for the PL-660 has grown, and I also like the PL-880 quite a lot. For more on the comparison, see my article: PL-660 or PL-880? and my article, SSB!

Update 2

And now, there is a Tecsun PL-990 in the house. I picked up a pristine used example at a good price from Kaito USA on eBay. It’s an awesome radio. See my new articles: Tecsun PL-ease: Comparing the PL-330, PL-660, PL-880 and PL-990 Shortwave Radios and Comparing My Top Radios.

Update 3

I sold the PL-880 and I’m going to say that the PL-990 is my favorite radio for now.

About Kevin

Just an old guy with opinions that I like to bounce off other people.
This entry was posted in Radio, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to My favorite shortwave radio

  1. Kevin says:

    The PL-990 gives incredibly good response on MW with a long-wire and ground connection. I have tried rabbit ears to good effect with some radios, but not tried the D-808 or EEE.

  2. AJ says:

    I own both the Eton Executive Satellit and the XHData D-808 (older model). Neither will disappoint you. Both have quirks, but you work with them.
    They DX very well. Add a loopstick, FSL or a good box loop for MW and a set of Rabbit Ears or a Turnstile for FM and you will be really impressed.

  3. Ian Walker says:

    The texun 660 is suposed to be a really good radio but sadly out of my price r3

  4. Emanuel says:

    Destes rádios mencionados só não tenho o Eton, mas posso dizer que de longe o melhor destes rádios é o Belka DX é um rádio de um outro campeonato, comparável a rádios topo no diz à recepção mas não com coluna que o acompanhava, coluna exterior.

  5. Kevin says:

    I’ve ordered a Tecsun PL-880 for my upcoming birthday. Hope springs eternal.

  6. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. I have used an SDR dongle, but really haven’t looked into stand-alone SDRs. I’ve heard good things about the Belka.

  7. Not Chicken Little says:

    You should try the Belka. And also the AFEDRI LAN-IQ. I like them both more than the Tecsun PL-660 which is the only one I have of your candidates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *